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EMBO J. 1994 Feb 1;13(3):713-26.

A double hairpin structure is necessary for the efficient encapsidation of spleen necrosis virus retroviral RNA.

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McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison 53706.


We conducted a mutational analysis within the previously defined encapsidation sequence (E) for spleen necrosis virus (SNV), an avian retrovirus. We found that two regions are necessary for efficient SNV replication. The first region is a double hairpin structure as proposed by Konings et al. (1992, J. Virol., 66, 632-640); the second region is located downstream of the hairpins. We showed further that the double hairpin structure is required for efficient SNV RNA encapsidation. Our work is the first to demonstrate, via linker-scanning and site-directed mutagenesis, that a specific RNA secondary structure is required for the encapsidation of retroviral RNA. Analysis of a series of mutations within the E region indicates (i) that preserving the secondary structure of the two hairpins is important for efficient encapsidation and (ii) that the stem regions of the hairpins contain specific sequences critical for encapsidation. Within the hairpins, the presence of at least one of the two conserved GACG four-residue loops, but not the moderately conserved bulge sequence of the first hairpin, is crucial for function. The function of the hairpins is independent of the relative order of the two hairpins. However, the two hairpins are not redundant and are not functionally identical. Replacement of SNV double hairpin sequences with those of Moloney murine leukemia virus (M-MLV) has no detectable effect on the replication of SNV-based retrovirus vectors with reticuloendotheliosis virus strain A (REV-A) helper virus. Furthermore, replacement of the entire E sequence of SNV with that of Moloney murine sarcoma virus (M-MSV) and M-MLV results in retroviral vectors that replicate as well as SNV vectors with wild type SNV E. This result indicates that the encapsidation sequences of M-MSV/M-MLV and SNV are not virus specific and that, during packaging of SNV and MLV RNA with viral proteins from REV-A, the encapsidation sequences are recognized largely by their secondary or tertiary structures.

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